Sunday, October 15, 2006

Salon Interview with Richard Dawkins

Salon has an interesting interview with Richard Dawkins here:

The flying spaghetti monster

It's mostly about Dawkins' views on religion (he's against it) and only touches on evolution insofar as it's relevant to the first question. I haven't entirely wrapped my head around whether Dawkins is fundamentally right or fundamentally wrong in his treatment of religion, but I tend towards the Dawkinsian view that the question itself may be meaningless.

But I do have one major quibble, and strangely enough it doesn't come from Dawkins at all, but instead comes from the interviewer in his introduction:

[Dawkins] first made his name 30 years ago with his groundbreaking book "The Selfish Gene," which reshaped the field of evolutionary biology by arguing that evolution played out at the level of the gene itself, not the individual animal.

That's just plain wrong. Dawkins didn't come up with this view, he simply popularized it. Here's what he says 1989 preface to the book:

The gene's-eye view of Darwinism is implicit in the writings of of R.A. Fisher and the other great pioneers of neo-Darwinism in the early thrities, but was made explicit by W.D. Hamilton and G.C. Williams in the sixties. For me their insight had a visionary quality. But I found their expressions of it too laconic, not full-throated ehough. I was conviced that an amplified and developed version could make everything about life fall into place, in the heart as well as in the brain. I would write a book extolling the gene's-eye view of evolution.

And while I can't find it in my edition, I have read before where he wrote in the book (or at least about the book) that while the view he expresses may be unfamiliar, even shocking to lay audiences, it's the sort of thing that evolutionary biologists had long since accepted.